Automobiles are four-wheeled motor vehicles designed to carry people and cargo. Powered by an internal combustion engine fueled by gasoline (a liquid petroleum product), they are one of the most ubiquitous of modern technologies and a symbol of twentieth-century industrial society.
Modern automobiles were developed in the late 1800s, when inventors such as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz and Nicolaus Otto perfected the gas-powered internal combustion engine, producing automobiles capable of replacing horse-drawn carriages on the streets and highways of Europe and America. By the 1920s automobile production was a multibillion-dollar industry, and Henry Ford introduced mass-production techniques that made cars affordable for the masses.
Today, the automobile is the principal means of transportation for millions of people in many countries. Its convenience and adaptability have transformed the way we live and work. Despite its drawbacks, it is the most important invention of the twentieth century.
Pros: Automobiles allow people to travel at their own pace and to avoid the crowdedness of public transportation. They can also carry more luggage and other items than a bus or train, making errands much easier. They are also more comfortable and can be customized for personal style and comfort. Cons: Cars are a major source of greenhouse gases, and relying on them can make a person’s life less sustainable. It can also be costly to maintain and operate a vehicle, and it is often difficult to find a place to park.
The United States had a larger land area and more equitable income distribution than European countries, so it was natural that automobile production would begin here early in the twentieth century. With cheap raw materials and a long manufacturing tradition, American manufacturers were quick to capitalize on the market.